Is it safe to visit the gym during the pandemic?

Gyms have opened, and people are desperate to get back into their pre-COVID fitness states. There is no doubt that it is safer to exercise at home or outside but some people find the discipline of going to gym useful in maintaining strength and fitness.

So, as long as you are exercising caution and the gym is abiding by the regulations and protocol, you can consider visiting the gym. Establish a habit of weighing risks vs benefits, before any activity. Remember that just because we are legally allowed to do more, does not necessarily mean it is safe to do so.  Click here to find comprehensive guidelines for fitness centres proposed by the ministerial advisory committee (MAC).

What specific precautions should I take at the gym?

The general rules of safety always apply! 

 Click here. for a quick recap.

In addition, safe practice at the gym includes :


  •  Avoid changing and showering.
  • Masks: Be aware that these are activities where people might spray sweat, breathe heavily and exhale droplets. So, even though masks are not necessary during exercise, the GGPC recommends you keep them on during all strenuous activities in an inside venue.


  • Number of people at gym: if the gym feels crowded and you are not able to maintain a safe distance between yourself and other people, move to a less crowded area or leave.
  • Class sizes should be restricted to a maximum of ten people (depending on the size of the room, class sizes might need to be smaller).
  • Ventilation: the gym should be well ventilated.
  • Screening: gym protocols should include health screening before entry. Anyone with symptoms should not be allowed to enter.
  • Records: The gym needs to keep a record of all attendees and should be able to do comprehensive contact tracing if somebody contracts Covid-19
  • Water: Take your own water bottle and don’t drink directly from water fountains.


  • Space: keep at least 2m between equipment. This applies to swimmers as well.
  • Disinfect: wipe down equipment well before and after use, using a disposable towel and disinfectant.
  • Weight training: should be done without a spotter.
  • Yoga: take your own yoga mat and towel.

 Swimming Pool

  • Use your own kick boards and goggles.
  • Wear masks when not in the water and
  • Sanitise hands before and after swimming.
  • Pools should be treated regularly with disinfecting chemicals. (According to the CDC and other sources, there is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through water)

Other FAQs regarding the gym

QUESTION: Does the lower case numbers mean we can safely visit the gym?

ANSWER: The case numbers in South Africa have continued on their reduced trajectory, and as such it is reasonable to cautiously re-engage with society. If all COVID-19 protocols are followed, these become “LOW- risk”, but not “NO-risk” interactions. By using common sense and following simple guidelines, going to the gym can be made as safe as possible.

QUESTION:I  am afraid to go out again. What do I do?

ANSWER: I have encountered many people who have become so used to being cocooned at home, that they feel anxious and afraid to go out. It will take time to learn to be out in the world again. I recommend taking baby steps and trying one situation at a time, being aware that you can control your own actions, but not those of the people around you. If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe in a situation, don’t be embarrassed to remove yourself.

General safety measures

  • The safety protocols for going to gym during the COVID-19 pandemic are the same as for all other interactions and engagements. Remember:
  • It is people who are the main risk factor, much more so than places or surfaces.
  • Masks are essential in preventing transmission of the virus and should be worn correctly – covering mouth and nose – by you and everyone outside of your household with whom you are in contact.
  • A safe distance of at least 1.5 metres should be maintained between yourself and your contacts. This is almost impossible to do in any situation in which there is a crowd of people in an indoor venue.
  • Hands should be washed frequently with soap and water, or alternatively, hand sanitizer should be used often.
  • Ventilation is a very important factor in limiting exposure to the virus. Encounters outside are preferable or inside venues should be well ventilated (preferably with outside air).
  • Elderly people (>65 years even if young at heart!) and those at greater risk of severe COVID-19 infection (especially diabetics, those with cardiac and lung problems and immunocompromised patients) should continue to remain extremely cautious. Anybody over 65 years or anyone with comorbidities should consult with their GP before going back to gym.
  • An excellent article on returning to sports and exercise was published in the Daily Maverick by some of South Africa’s leading doctors, and can be accessed here for further information on this topic Read here.


Dr Sheri Fanaroff

Dr Sheri Fanaroff

Dr Sheri Fanaroff MBBCh FCFP MFamMed, a Family Physician, practicing in Melrose, Johannesburg. Fanaroff is a member of GGPC (Gauteng General Practitioners Collaboration) which has created a platform for doctors to share resources during Covid-19. Look for #voicesthatcare on the GGPC Facebook page.

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